"My husband called the police and then came over to the house," said Lee Burke. Roy arrived at the house later that night to find swastikas, Ku Klux Klan symbols and the words "move out nigger" scrawled across his garage door.
This isn't the first time a black family has been harassed this way as they prepared to move to North Valley Stream. A similar incident was reported on Frances Drive in November 2003.
In the latest incident, police say the spray-painting occurred between 7 and 8:30 Monday night. None of the neighbors in the area that the Herald spoke to on Tuesday afternoon said they noticed anything suspicious. The investigation is ongoing, police said.
"I wish I had seen something so I could have helped the police, but I didn't," said Michael Podhaskie, who lives across the street from the Burkes. "It's not representative of this neighborhood - we welcome [the Burke family]."
Assemblyman Thomas Alfano said that the event sickened him, and he called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. "My hometown of North Valley Stream's diversity is one of its strengths," said Alfano. "This is not the kind of welcome mat I wanted to have for them."
Lee Burke said she was disappointed by the incident, but added that she didn't get angry about it until she realized that it happened on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. "My first reaction was that I had to clean it up and explain to my girls what had happened so they wouldn't be too upset," said Lee. The Burkes have three daughters, Chell, 12, Jonell, 10, and Chanell, 4.
Burke called the incident "totally ignorant" and said that it didn't accomplish anything, because the family has every intention of moving in and "being good neighbors with everybody."
Residents expressed embarrassment and sympathy. "That doesn't reflect the attitudes of this neighborhood," said Alex Mozdzer, a 54-year resident of North Valley Stream. "I think people are very embarrassed about it."
Next-door neighbor Marilyn Bunger, whose husband made the call to Roy Burke, told his wife, "I'm sorry you had to receive that phone call last night."
Carlton Thomas had a similar experience when he moved to Frances Drive, just down the block from the Burkes, two years ago and, like the Burkes, he and his family were determined not to be intimidated. A native of Jamaica, Thomas was about to move to North Valley Stream from Rosedale with his wife and first child when the incident occurred.
Thomas recalled that his family was getting ready to move into the house and had hired a contractor to do some minor work. When the contractor arrived at the house on Nov. 18, 2003, he saw swastikas and "KKK" spray-painted on Thomas's garage door, and called to tell him. Thomas said that the police were already at the house when he arrived, but the case remains unsolved.
"Nothing has become of it," said Thomas, adding that he and his family were determined to live in the neighborhood in spite of the incident, and that his neighbors are very supportive. "Generally it's a nice neighborhood. It's pretty quiet. There are nice people. It's just one of those things you can't escape. You can't judge the entire neighborhood by what happened here. It's just part of life."
But it's a part of life that Thomas and his wife are not accustomed to. The couple moved to New York from Jamaica when Thomas was transferred by his employer, an airline. "Obviously we were outraged," Thomas said. "But being a Jamaican and not growing up in this environment, I figure it affected us differently than it would have affected an American."
Thomas said he believes the people who spray-painted his garage had to be watching the house closely to know that his family was black, because he had only done work inside the house, and furniture had not even been delivered yet.
Since then Thomas has been the recipient of other discriminatory treatment. "Since then they've broken my bay window," he said. "I received a note in my mailbox that said, 'Move out nigger.' [And] one day in the summer I was putting out my [garden] hose when a gentleman drove by in his car and shouted out 'Move out of Valley Stream, nigger.'"
Thomas continued, "We have determined that this is where we are going to live, and that won't cause us to leave."
He said he wasn't sure what he would say to the Burke family, but that he would introduce himself and share his experiences of discrimination with them.
For her part, Lee Burke was thinking positively. She said that she did not feel any hatred toward the perpetrators, just that they had "too much time on their hands."
"We're religious and deeply Christian," said Lee. "So we're not going to react in a negative way. This is just something you don't want to see."
Nicole Falco contributed to this story. Comments about it? MSchnitzel@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 265.
On Monday night, Roy Burke received a call from his new neighbor Dick Bunger, informing him that racially charged graffiti had been spray-painted on his garage door.